Willie Nelson – Stardust

More Willie Nelson

Stardust

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  • With Triple Plus (A+++) grades on both sides of this exceptionally well-recorded album, this copy surely qualifies as an Audiophile Demo Disc, the best copy to hit the site in years!
  • From the first few moments of the title track you’ll be blown away by the in-the-room immediacy of The Man himself
  • This copy is hi-res without sacrificing the Analog warmth that makes the recording so exceptional, especially for one from 1978
  • 5 stars: “Stardust showcases Nelson’s skills as a musician and his entire aesthetic — where there is nothing separating classic American musical forms, it can all be played together — perhaps better than any other album…”

This vintage Columbia pressing has the kind of Tubey Magical Midrange that modern records rarely begin to reproduce. Folks, that sound is gone and it sure isn’t showing any sign of coming back.

Having done this for so long, we understand and appreciate that rich, full, natural sound is key to the presentation of this primarily vocal music. We rate these qualities higher than others we might be listening for (e.g., bass definition, soundstage, depth, etc.).

Hot Stamper sound is rarely about the details of a given recording. In the case of this album, more than anything else a Hot Stamper must succeed at recreating a solid, palpable, real Willie Nelson singing live in your listening room. The better copies have an uncanny way of doing just that.

If you exclusively play modern repressings of vintage recordings, I can say without fear of contradiction that you have never heard this kind of sound on vinyl. Old records have it — not often, and certainly not always — but less than one out of 100 new records do, if our experience with the hundreds we’ve played over the years can serve as a guide.

Warmth and Resolution

Georgia On My Mind is a DEMO QUALITY track on this album. You aren’t going to believe all the ambience. The top end is gorgeous — sweet, delicate, and silky with loads of extension. The sound is extremely hi-res without sacrificing any of the warmth that makes this music so special.

Just listen to the rimshots and the bell in Georgia On My Mind — we guarantee you have NEVER heard those instruments sound so present, clear, and immediate. 

Willie’s voice is natural and tonally correct, with all the breathy texture you could ever hope to hear. The acoustic guitars and Booker T.’s organ are perfection.

What superb sides such as these have to offer is not hard to hear:

  • The biggest, most immediate staging in the largest acoustic space
  • The most Tubey Magic, without which you have almost nothing. CDs give you clean and clear. Only the best vintage vinyl pressings offer the kind of Tubey Magic that was on the tapes in 1978
  • Tight, note-like, rich, full-bodied bass, with the correct amount of weight down low
  • Natural tonality in the midrange — with all the instruments — organ; piano; electric, acoustic and pedal steel guitars; bass and drums having the correct timbre
  • Transparency and resolution, critical to hearing into the three-dimensional studio space

No doubt there’s more but we hope that should do for now. Playing the record is the only way to hear all of the qualities we discuss above, and playing the best pressings against a pile of other copies under rigorously controlled conditions is the only way to find a pressing that sounds as good as this one does.

Awareness

Many copies of this album suffer from an phony hi-fi-ish quality (which is probably the reason why Stardust made the TAS List in the first place). You’ve got to play a big stack of copies to come up with a pressing that offers this kind of relaxed, natural sound. That’s our job here at Better Records — playing bad records so you don’t have to.

On the better copies we became aware of aspects of the music as well as the recording that we hadn’t paid attention to during the previous hours of Stardust play. All the elements were there, but not THERE, right in front of us, laid out clearly for all to hear.

The music may not have changed, but our appreciation of it sure did. Here was the real Willie Nelson backed by Booker T. and the boys. Now we could hear just how much love these guys have for this music.

That’s what the best copies do — they show you just how magical these very special performances must have been, laid down onto analog tape forty plus years ago. Clearly both the music and the sound of this record are timeless.

TRACK LISTING

Side One

Stardust
Georgia On My Mind

This track has some lovely subtleties that demand a copy with the kind of superb transparency and clarity offered by this pressing. The rimshots that keep the beat here should have lots of ambience and room around them, and the bell only sounds right if there’s enough extension on the top end.

Blue Skies
All Of Me
Unchained Melody

Side Two

September Song
On The Sunny Side Of The Street

Without superb bass definition, the bottom end becomes blurred and the whole track kind of falls apart. Willie’s voice is completely unique and hard to get right, but on a stellar copy like this, he’ll sound silky sweet with no spit or grain.

Moonlight In Vermont
Don’t Get Around Much Anymore
Someone To Watch Over Me

Rolling Stone Review

By Ariel Swartley
June 29, 1978

When country singers go back to their roots, the album’s usually called Amazing Grace, but Willie Nelson’s never been known for his orthodoxy. Instead of hymns, he’s giving us ten of the best from popular classicists like George and Ira Gershwin, Duke Ellington and Irving Berlin. Still, Stardust traces Nelson’s musical family tree more convincingly than The Troublemaker, his own white-gospel collection.

In one sense, Stardust is a memory album: “On the Sunny Side of the Street,” “Georgia on My Mind” and the rest were songs Nelson grew up playing in dives and dance halls across Texas. He and his band haven’t reworked them much since then. You can still hear a hint of polka and the clippety-clop of singing cowboys in the bass line of “Blue Skies,” and the black-tie-and-champagne bounce of “Someone to Watch Over Me” has been smoothed to a whiskey (straight up) fox trot. A harmonica does the duty of a horn section, and in between the verses Nelson picks out the melody on his guitar. The notes are as sweet and easy as the smiles of the women eyeing the bandstand over their partners’ shoulders.

Stardust is also Nelson’s tribute to his teachers — as a songwriter, he learned a lot from these guys. Like how to open a song with a rush and a phrase that lands you in the middle of a situation: “All of me…” or “Hello, walls….” Or how to cover the two-by-fours of verse/verse/bridge with a seamless melody that glides over all the joints and angles. Willie Nelson, singer, learned his offbeat phrasing from urbane songs like these, where it still shows off best. Refusing to be hurried by the band, he strolls through “All of Me” and “Don’t Get Around Much Anymore,” as wry and debonair as the lyrics.

But Stardust is more than a personal history or testimonial. It’s a reminder. The songs Nelson has chosen are a part of Nashville’s collective bloodlines too, as much as tent-show evangelism and barroom stomps are. The old standards’ precise balance of artifice and sentiment stood as a pattern for the popular song that was never seriously challenged until the eruption of rock & roll. In Nashville, it persisted even then. In “Stardust” or “September Song,” as in Nashville’s most enduring creations (including many of Nelson’s own), resignation, with its implied self-sufficiency, triumphs — barely — over whatever agony of emotion is at hand. Tears may slide into the beer, but the singer’s dignity is preserved.

For all the sleek sophistication of the material, Stardust is as down-home as the Legion dance. Heard coast to coast in lounges and on elevator soundtracks, these tunes have become part of the folk music of exurban America. And that’s the way Nelson plays them — spare and simple, with a jump band’s verve and a storyteller’s love of a good tale. By offering these songs, he’s displaying the tools of a journeyman musician’s trade — worn smooth and polished by constant use — and when he lays them out this way, they kind of look like works of art. Willie Nelson may be acknowledging both his own and country music’s debt to Broadway and Tin Pan Alley, but he’s also showing these hallowed musical institutions how the country makes their music its own.

AMG Review

At the height of outlaw country, Willie Nelson pulled off perhaps the riskiest move of the entire bunch. He set aside originals, country, and folk and recorded Stardust, a collection of pop standards produced by Booker T. Jones… Stardust showcases Nelson’s skills as a musician and his entire aesthetic — where there is nothing separating classic American musical forms, it can all be played together — perhaps better than any other album, which is why it was a sensation upon its release and grows stronger with each passing year.

We Get Letters

Here’s what the customer who bought a White Hot Stamper copy of Stardust had to say about it:

I played the record for [two of my friends] last night and they were dumbfounded and speechless. They loved it. It was as if they had never before heard the recording. So natural, so rich.

So true. It’s not that they hadn’t heard the recording; they’d just never heard it sound so good. That’s what our Hot Stampers are all about.